The Top 10 Traits of a Korean-to-English Translator

Korean is not easy for English speakers to learn and understand. Google Translate sometimes does a passable job on Korean-to-English translation content. But if you must have a complete and correct understanding of Korean technical materials, then you need to work with a professional translator who translates Korean to English well.

This page discusses qualities you should look for in a Korean-to-English translator before choosing someone to translate Korean materials for you.

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1. Comprehends written Korean thoroughly

Needless to say, a good Korean-to-English translator must be fluent in Korean, with an ability to go beyond the general message and read between the lines for the details and nuances.

I passed the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) at the highest level many years ago. Since then, I have continued my Korean studies, and my understanding of Korean is the best it has ever been, and it is much better than nearly every other Korean-to-English translator I know. Most notably, I have been studying for a Ph.D. student at Hanyang University. I took all of my classes and tests in Korean, and my published academic writing is also in Korean. I am currently working on my Ph.D. dissertation, and am expecting to graduate in 2020.

2. Writes English fluently and clearly

Of course, most Koreans understand Korean at a native-speaker level and easily possess the first trait described above. However, knowing Korean is not enough; a good translator must also speak and write perfect English. This is the reason for the rule of thumb in the translation industry that translators should only translate into their native language. Any Korean learning English later in life will never write at the same level as a native English speaker. Therefore, to translate Korean into English perfectly requires perfect English writing skills.

Long before I learned Korean, I was already an excellent English writer. And improving my written English has been a life-long effort, even as I worked on my Korean. As recently as 2016, I took and was awarded certificates of completion in the Technical Writing Certificate Program at the University of Texas in Arlington. You can be certain that my Korean translation work will communicate naturally and correctly for you.

3. Understands the subject matter of the content to be translated

In the field of technical translation, language skills are not enough; one must also have knowledge in the fields of the materials that one translates. Ideally, a translator should be a subject matter expert (or SME). This requires a familiarity with the general topic, as well as of the basic terminology. Of course, a Korean-to-English translator will never know everything in every specialized topic that he or she is asked to work in. However, a strong foundation of knowledge in the field allows the translator to research and evaluate terms, understand difficult concepts in Korean, and translate all of the meaning into good English.

I specialize in technical translation, and within this area, I work in several specific areas. My strongest fields are in business and finance thanks to my past experience and education. However, along the way (especially during my graduate school studies in Korea), I have strengthened my understanding of business law, econometrics, and statistics for the social sciences, both in Korea and in the US. I am also called on frequently to translate medical, personal, and other technical content. This means I do not handle Korean-to English translation of literary materials, such as novels, movies, and TV shows.

4. Meets deadlines every time

Deadlines are critical and a professional Korean-to-English translator must be able to start work promptly and maintain a schedule, being aware of how long the task will take. The best translators have contingency plans for dealing with interruptions and keep their commits to clients at all costs. Sometimes this requires sacrifice, and it always entails a strong sense of self-discipline and responsibility. There is no room for procrastination and excuses when clients who depend on work being completed on schedule.

I simply do not miss deadlines. If I say I will have a translation to you by a certain day and time, I will do so. This commitment is hard-wired into my “Consistently Good Work” pledge and I will not let you down.

5. Is available to work on short notice

A professional Korean-to-English translator who doesn’t check email or answer the phone promptly, or who expects to take long vacations and schedule projects around personal activities does not understand the requirements of the modern business world. Of course, if a translator is busy with current work, new requests may have to wait a bit. However, I have found that the busiest translators are the ones who deliver the fastest; the ones who only treat translation as a part-time gig or don’t have much work usually need more time.

My preferred communication method is email, and I have access to email all the time. You can also reach me by phone, through this website, and even in person (if you are in the Dallas, Texas area or in Korea, depending on where I am at the time). I am also a full-time translator and I work whenever I can. This means I’ll start your job as soon as I can, and then work evenings and weekends to give you prompt service. I don’t twiddle my thumbs and I don’t make clients wait.

6. Communicates with the client proactively at all times

A professional Korean-to-English translator does not assume that the client understands the process. Rather, he or she keeps the client informed throughout the process, making sure the project terms are agreed upon clearly, that the client knows that the work is on schedule, and is then available for follow-up questions and adjustments, as necessary, after the Korean-to-English translation has been delivered.

I excel in this area. Before starting a Korean business translation job (or a translation job in any field, for that matter), I will clarify with you the purpose of the translation using tools I have developed. This ensures that you receive a Korean-to-English translation that meets your expectations. Some projects are simple, but many are complicated, and involve difficult file formats, detailed instructions, and copious reference materials. I will navigate through all of the pitfalls along the way, communicating with you during the process, to ensure that I follow your instructions and meet your expectations.

My clients don’t wonder about things. If they email me, they get a response. And they clear and complete answers to their questions. Before we start work, I will reconfirm with you about my understanding of the job scope and deadline, and I will get your confirmation before starting any paid work. I will also keep you updated on my progress. Moreover, as I translate English to Korean in your project, I may check in with you for questions or to get guidance on specific approaches in order to ensure that you receive as much value as possible from your investment as possible.

Finally, when I deliver the English translation of your Korean document, I will point out any issues, and ask you for feedback and questions. This means, even after the job is finished, I remain available, communicating with you as necessary to ensure your satisfaction.

7. Approaches all work with a perfectionist mindset

An expert working on Korean-to-English translation work must always strive to do better. Good-enough is sometimes adequate in life, but a true professional will try to find the right words to communicate each and every word and phrase in English that the Korean materials contain. A Korean-to-English translator must also check his or her work, reading back through a first-draft translation to rework passages that sound awkward, or that might have been misunderstood the first time.

I follow a three-step process on every Korean-to-English translation job. I first translate the document from Korean to English in draft form. This first draft is not usually a great translation, but it gets my words on the virtual paper, and it allows me to preview the entire document, gaining an understanding of the overall context. I then go back through the entire translation word for word, comparing the Korean to my English translation and looking for anything I can improve. At this point, I am still improving the phrasing, correcting inadvertent mistranslations and misspellings, and addressing any other issues. As a final step, I read back through the English one more time, only referring to the Korean if necessary. This final read-through focuses on fluency and perfection.

8. Has worked through the 10,000-hour threshold for genuine translation expertise

It is said that to achieve expertise in any specialized field, one must spend at least than 10,000 hours learning and working in it. Translation is a complex process, and a novice Korean-to-English translator is still not familiar with the myriad of different methods and techniques to raise efficiency and quality.

I have invoiced over 20,000 projects in my career and I passed the 10,000-hour threshold long ago, not only in translation but also in finance and business, which are my fields of expertise. Nothing in a Korean-to-English project surprises me, and I deliver consistent quality every time using workflows and thought patterns I have perfected over many years. I’m ready for your “unusual” project. I assure you, it won’t be unusual for me!

9. Is familiar with both Korean and Western cultures

A good translator between any two languages must be able to translate more than just the rote meanings of words. Dictionary-based terminology translations don’t always communicate clearly or idiomatically in important situations. This is why a Korean-to-English translator must adapt the translation to the cultural context, even as he or she makes sure the meaning itself is retained.

I have been explaining the Korean culture (especially Korean business culture) to non-Koreans for decades. With my training, learning, and experience in Korea, I understand the Korean cultural landscape better than just about any non-Korean I know. In fact, having thought about these cultural connections throughout my years in Korea and I see them from a Western perspective. This means that I know the things that confuse non-Koreans and I can explain and adapt them effectively for my Western clients. You can be sure that my translations of Korean to English will communicate with you at the level of the original documents. You won’t be left wondering why the words seem to make sense, but the situation is still fuzzy.

10. Translates Korean to English with an analytical mindset

Translating from Korean to English involves a complex process of analysis. Every meaningful word, every grammatical construct, and every cultural element from the Korean must be represented in the English. Koreans who grow up in a bilingual environment often do not understand these connections consciously because these connections came to them naturally. Ironically, this can be a disadvantage in translation, since, without a conscious understanding, one is unable to explain clearly.

I started my Korean learning journey at an age when I had to take deliberate steps at every point along the way, I have consciously formed the connections of meaning between English and Korean (and between the cultures of Korea and the West), and have done so at a very deep level. This means that I do not speak or write Korean at a native Korean level, I read Korean content somewhat slowly, and would not be able to translate English to Korean fluently. However, when it comes to translation, I am equally deliberate in putting together English sentences from the Korean that completely and accurately represent the original Korean.


Finding a good Korean translator is not as easy as you might expect. Korean-to-English translation is not something any bilingual speaker can do well. A good Korean-to-English translator must know Korean fluently, of course. But a translator working as a professional must also have a deep knowledge of the subject matter he or she is translating, be able to write English fluently… and meet deadlines, check his or her work carefully, and follow instructions.

Thank you for reading!

I hope you’ve found the information in this article helpful and interesting. Please share a link to this post using the social media buttons below. Also, if you have questions or additional observations, feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

Steven Bammel

Steven S. Bammel is president and chief translator/consultant at Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc. A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington (B.B.A. Economics) and Hanyang University (M.S. Management Strategy), Steven has worked for over twenty years in Korean business and translation. | more about Steven

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